Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How hard can it be to run a marina?

If you've ever thought about running away from the rat race and enjoying the easy life in some tropical paradise, have I got the book for you...

Marina Melee

George H. Marshall III has it all, and he wants to get away from it: women, a busy social calendar, and his so-called career in the family oil business. Determined to prove to his parents that he is more than a spoiled, womanizing, over-aged adolescent, George buys Porto da Vida Marina on a small island in the Caribbean. What could be an easier road to business success than running a marina on a tropical island?

As mishap piles on disaster, George realizes his new life in paradise isn't all about sitting under palm trees sipping umbrella drinks. Between his wayward staff, the governor's hot-to-trot wife, a lift truck possessed by jumbies, and a host of other island disasters-natural and human-George finds that living the easy life is hard work.

If you'd  like an autographed copy of Marina Melee to give as a gift, or to treat yourself to a tropical adventure, I'll be signing copies at West Marine on Savannah Highway in Charleston, SC on Saturday, December 8, 2012 from 10 a.m.-2:00 p.m., and at the Center for Women's Annual Lowcountry Women Authors Book Signing at the Citadel Holliday Alumni House (69 Hagood Ave.) on Sunday, December 9, 2012 from 2:00-5:00 p.m.

Hope to see you there!
West Marine in West Ashley
Charleston, SC

Monday, November 12, 2012

Mystery of the Fish Eye

If you're on Facebook you probably saw the picture of the giant bloody eyeball that washed up on a Florida beach a few weeks ago. Speculation on the source of the softball-sized eye ranged from the reasonable (giant squid or whale) to the unlikely (Big Foot).
Photo by Carli Segelson, Florida Fish and
Wildlife Conservation Commission

Based on the eye's color, size and structure, along with the presence of bone around it, scientists concluded the eye came from a swordfish. They also observed straight cuts around the perimeter, suggesting the eye had not been ripped out in some deepsea wrestling match but removed with a knife. Most likely, the eye was cut out and discarded by a fisherman. Was it a fisherman with a keen sense of humor who thought "won't this freak someone out?" as he tossed it overboard? We may never know.
Giant squid attacking a bait squid.
Photo from National Geographic.
Most people don't realize how big a swordfish or marlin eye can be because most of it is inside the head. As impressive as the eye's size is, it pales in comparison to the giant squid's dinnerplate-sized eye that comes in at 3 times the diameter of the swordfish orb. Scientists speculate the larger eye allows the squid to detect the shimmer of bioluminescent organisms in the dark of the ocean deep. The glitter of light could indicate the approach of the squid's only predator, the sperm whale.

Fish eyes, for the most part, work similar to our eyes. They have rods and cones, and light enters through a cornea and passing through the pupil to reach the lens. Most fish have a fixed pupil size, but cephalopods, like the giant squid, have a pupil that adjusts size and shape: it's w-shaped when contracted and round when fully dilated. There isn't much difference in refractive index between the water and the cornea--light passes in a straight line, no bending as it does when passing through air into our liquid-filled eyes. Human eyes are adapted to accomodate the differences in refraction between air and water and so are more concave than most fish eyes. That's why we need to wear a mask to see underwater, but fish don't.

Four-eyed fish,
 The four-eyed fish might just be the winner for the most unusual eyeballs in the aquatic world. These fish feed on terrestrial insects at the surface so they need to see underwater, where they live and in the air, where they feed. Their two eyes (yes, 4-eyes is a misnomer) are raised above the top of the head and divided in two different parts, allowing them to see below and above the water surface at the same time. The fish floats at the water surface with only the lower half of each eye underwater. The two halves are divided by a band of tissue and the eye has two pupils connected by part of the iris. The upper half of the eye is adapted for vision in air, the lower half for vision in water The lens of the eye also changes in thickness top to bottom to account for the different refractive indices of air versus water. The two pupils allow the 4-eyed fish to search for the food above the water while keeping an eye out for predators below the water at the same time. It also makes them really difficult to catch!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

56' of Sea Serpent

What's the longest fish on record? The oarfish, Regalecus is the longest bony fish in the oceans today, holding the record of 17 meters (56') in length. Seems like something that big would have a hard time hiding, so why have most people never heard of or seen something that large?

Some sailors in the US Navy pose with a dead oarfish (1996; from Wikipedia)

Oarfish live at depths up to 3,280 feet (1,000 m), although they're more typically found at around 656 feet (200 m). They rarely venture to the surface unless they're injured or dying. Occasionally, one of these giant eely fish will be tossed onto a beach after a storm. Their eggs can be seen during spawning season from July to December in the northern hemisphere. They release the brightly coloured, buoyant eggs (up to 6 millimetres (0.24 in) across) which are incorporated into the zooplankton. The eggs hatch after about three weeks into highly active larvae that feed on other zooplankton.

Drawing of the sea serpent-like oarfish
With their long, tapering body, smooth silvery skin (they don't have scales), and red dorsal fin that runs from the eye down the entire length of the body, oarfish are the most likely source of tales of sea serpents. Their dorsal fin is composed of 400 rays, the first 10-12 of which are elongated and flow from the head like a mane. Their pelvic fins are also elongated and end in a fleshy tab. It was once believed they rowed themselves through the water with these pelvic fins, thus the name oarfish. They actually swim by undulating their long dorsal fin while keeping the body straight (as do sea horses). Similar to sea horses, oarfish have been observed swimming in a vertical position in what is believed to be a method used to search for prey.

A dead oarfish washed up on a beach in Perth, Australia
Oarfish are found in temperate to tropic seas, but as mentioned, they're rarely seen because of their preferred depth. In fact, the first time a swimming oarfish was caught on video was in 2001! You can see parts of that on this You-Tube video.

Oarfish have no teeth and feed on plankton, so they're no threat to humans, and humans are no threat to them since their mushy flesh isn't very tasty. Still, I might think twice about jumping into the water with a 56' long fish!!
Oarfish. Image from Wikipedia.

For more information on the oarfish, see:
Hendrickson, R. (1984). The Ocean Almanac. Doubleday, NY. 446 pp.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Today's Business-2-Community website has an article on strategies to reach one's goals: Achieving Goals: Five Important Lessons from Michael Phelps. We all know Phelps is the world's greatest swimmer and arguably the world's greatest athlete. What this article focuses on is how he got there, and how we can all follow his example to plan out a strategy for achieving our own goals, whether they're in the pool, at work, or at the keyboard writing a novel, poem, essay, or other masterpiece.
Michael Phelps with his 2012 Olympic Gold Medals

The five lessons are:
1. Prepare for Success
2. Do Not Be Afraid to Announce Your Goals Publically
3. Work With Your Strengths and Weaknesses, Accentuating the Positives
4. Assemble a Team To Support You in Pursuing Your Goals
5. Never Give Up

Phelps began implementing these lessons as soon as he hit the pool at age 7. He prepared for his eventual success by putting in long, hard hours in the pool and in the gym. He didn't look for short cuts and he didn't settle for just being the best in his club, state, region, or in the U.S. He didn't settle for less than his goal and he put in all the years of work that entails. He announced his intentions publicly, setting himself up for spectacular failures and ridicule if he didn't continue to prepare and work to improve his weaknesses and enhance his strengths. Forget peer pressure. By announcing his intentions to "three-peat" or win the most golds in a single Olympics, or any of his other seemingly brash announcements, Phelps put the pressure on himself to not end up looking foolish. What great motivation that is!

Phelps also made sure he had a support team that was able to bring out the best in him, overcome the worst, and help him achieve his goals. That didn't mean surrounding himself with sycophants and cheerleaders. He stayed with the coach that pushed him, even when they butted heads, because he knew he needed discipline, not back patting. His friend and teammate Ryan Lochte was a threat to his standing and to his public announcements of his intentions. He used that competition to fuel his drive. And he had his mother's love, support, encouragement,. I'm sure some mornings, that included nagging him to get out of bed,  making sure he didn't give up because he was tired, sore, or just not feeling motivated that day, and in other ways, doing things that mothers do, even when we find them unpleasant (thanks, moms!) Most of all, no matter the obstacles, no matter the whispered wonderings if he still had "it" in him, Michael Phelps never quit, never gave up until he achieved all of his swimming goals.

As writers, we can apply these lessons, and emulate the role model Phelps provides, in our own endeavors.

Prepare for success. We have to work on our craft always. We can and should continue to improve, learn more, try new things, all with our eye on the ultimate prize of publishing works we're proud of, not just publishing for the sake of publishing. That means we have to plan out a multi-year, multi-decade strategy. We have to expect and learn from failure, from rejection. Great swimmers are made through years of practice and from losing a few races along the way. So are great writers. Very few of us can sit down at the computer and pump out a complete, finished, well-written novel on our first try. Be prepared to shove the first two or three attempts in a drawer, never to see the light of day again (unless of course it's to remind ourselves, molnths and years later, how far we've come!)

Don't be afraid to announce our goals publicly. Those first tenuous steps at sharing our work or our ambition to become a writer with other people are difficult. Will our friends and family mock us? Will they think we're crazy? How will we respond when someone asks, "What have you written?" and we have nothing but dozens of unpublished stories on our hard drives? But announcing our goals publicly, boldly stating, "I want to be a writer, poet, novelist," is the first step in turning our dream into a reality. "I want to write a novel, so first I have to practice, hone my skills, and make the time to write." Only then can we firmly plot out our next steps and move forward with our plan. Without this public announcement, we will have a difficult time building the support team needed and committing to the work and the sacrifices ahead as we pursue our dreams.

Work with our strengths and weaknesses, accentuating the positives. Knowing our weaknesses as writers helps us to overcome those. The critical point in this statement, however, is "accentuate the positives." Maybe it's something in the writer's psyche, but we do seem to focus on our weaknesses, wallow in them, fret over them, and often, let them silence us. We have to learn to see those weaknesses and address them, but then see through them to our strengths, and embrace and be emboldened by those. Vivid imagination? Use it. Traumatic childhood? Use it. Love affair with words? Embrace it. Accentuating the positives can get us through those rough days when we wonder why we're sitting at the computer, staring at an empty screen, or deleting pages and pages of sub-par work from the day before. We don't do those things because we can't write, we do those things because we know we can write better.

Assemble a team to support you in pursuing your goals. Using Phelps, or any outstanding athlete as an example, consider who has to be on your team. Yes, it's important to have a few cheerleaders around to help when morale sinks, but it's even more important to have a demanding coach who will bring out the best in us and give us an honest assessment of what we need to work on. Find a writing coach or partner in a local or online writing group, or take some classes. Find an editor who is both brutally honest and encouraging, as needed. Depending on your goals, your team might include an agent, a publisher, or magazine editors. And don't forget to include teammates--others who are going through what you are, who understand what it means to lock yourself in your room and give free rein to the voices in your head.  The Internet Writing Workshop is a great place to find all of these and start building a support team.

Finally, never give up. Critiquers will rip our work apart. Rejections will come. Each time we write something, we'll think we're at the top of our game. Until we read it a few weeks or months later. As I learned working in sales, a goal isn't a place to stop, it's a place to start. Once we've achieved our initial goal, it's time to up the ante. Try harder, shoot for more. If we get rejections, we'll improve what we wrote. If we get published, we'll write something even better next time. We'll never give up.

Sadly, we won't be able to follow Phelps's 12,000 calorie/day diet as we pursue our sedentary sport of writing, but at least we can follow his lessons for swimming success to achieve our own writing goals.

Write on!


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Everything You Wanted to Know About Barnacles, But Were Afraid to Ask (or, How I Came to be a Marine Scientist)

I'm often asked why I became a marine scientist. I come from upstate New York--farm country. We have lakes, ponds, creeks, rivers. No ocean. While there's not really a single answer, I could give the standard, boiler-plate: Jacques Cousteau, family vacations at the shore, my love of the outdoors, being a swimmer. But the truth is it was barnacles that really captured my interest.

True confessions, I spent much more of my college career socializing (a euphemism for drinking) than studying. There are many lectures, indeed, many semesters that are a bit hazy in my mind, not due to the 30-intervening years, but due to the hangover I had during those classes. But, I remember barnacles from zoology class. This was while I was still at SUNY Binghamton, still a vague "maybe-sort of something in biology" major who hadn't decided what to do with my life.

I was probably half-dozing, sleeping off a hangover, or planning that night's activities, when the professor said something that caught my attention and has stuck with me to this day.

A barnacle's penis can reach up to ten-times its body length.

The barnacle penis is a modified cirrus
Wait. It gets better.
The barnacle penis has transverse and longitudinal muscles.

That means it can extend, contract, and move left, right, around in circles, any old way!

I'll admit, that is a really strange thing to focus on, but I did. I paid attention to the rest of that lecture. More surprising, I went home and read the chapter on arthropods, and particularly, crustaceans.

What I learned stayed with me. Not only are barnacles the John Holmes of the invertebrate world...hell, of the WHOLE animal kingdom, but they're pretty darn interesting for little buggers that stay latched on to one place for their whole lives.

Barnacles are hermaphroditic--they're he/shes with both male and female parts. They can self-fertilize, but usually don't. With a penis that's 10-times your body length, you can reach out and touch your nearest (or not so near) neighbor pretty easily, and your neighbor can reciprocate.

After fertilization, the eggs develop inside the adult's shell and, when ready, are released into the water. Ready means the eggs have developed into nauplii larvae (barnacle infancy), a traveling-with-the-currents, feeding, growing stage. The nauplius has a simple eye spot, so can detect light and shadows, antennae to sense the environment, and swims (or more appropriately, steers, since the currents would overpower any swimming they did) using setae (hair-like projections) as oars. The barnacle spends about 6 months as a nauplius, molting to grow, as do all arthropods. At the last molt before adulthood, it will undergo metamorphosis into a cyprid larva (adolescence).

The cyprid stage is really messed up, in a fascinating way. Cyprid larvae don't eat. At all. And barnacles can spend anywhere from days to 6 or 7 weeks in this stage.

The cyprid larvae's job is to find a place to settle down. This isn't a decision to be made lightly. Barnacles are sessile: once they settle down, it's forever.
Cyprid larva
The perfect forever home for a barnacles is on a hard surface; one with some pits and grooves to snuggle into so it can't be easily wiped off. Somewhere with room to grow, but with some neighbors, too (to take advantage of that long, dexterous penis); some of its own kind to associate with...just not too close or crowded.  And food should be readily available. 
Food comes from the same place as enemies or predators, from the water.  Live high enough above the water line and the aquatic predators can't reach you, but too high and neither can the food. Then there's a whole other set of terretrial predators that can get you. And the sunlight up high can be pretty harsh, beating down on you during the day when the tide is out. The cyprid larvae has to balance all of these considerations when seeking its permanent home.

Once it's found a suitable location, the cyprid settles down. It has a short period when it can crawl around, use its antennae to make sure it this is where it wants to spend the rest of its life, and the do the deed.

The larva places its head down on the spot it selected and uses an adhesive gland located near its antennae to release a cementing substance. The decision is now final and irrevocable. The cyprid larva is permanently glued to this spot. Now, the barnacle undergoes one last metamorphosis into adulthood.

The newly cemented-in-place barnacle undergoes many changes so it can be more efficient in its sedentary adult life. It secretes calcareous plates around its soft body for protection from predators, desiccation, and wave action. The eyespot that detected light/dark serves no purpose. Maintaining a photoreceptor is a waste of energy, so adult barnacles lose their “eye.”

Adult acorn barnacle
The larval swimming appendages (setae) also become unnecessary. The swim appendages turn into "cirri" or feeding legs.  These "new-" (or modified old-) appendages provide the scientific name given to barnacles‑‑Cirripedia. In Latin, that means hairy feet.  Their hairy feet wave in the water above their shell, catching small organisms. So, really, the barnacle spends its whole adult life doing a handstand and kicking food into its mouth.

As in most arthropods, the appendages, or cirri, become highly specialized. Some of the cirri are used for feeding, some are for grasping, and then there's that one special one that captured my interest: the reproductive cirri, aka, the penis. I've since found that my professor's claim of "10 times it's body length" may have been a bit of an exaggeration. It's more typically "only" seven times the animal's length. Still no slouch in the endowment department (see photo above). 

Once a barnacle’s metamorphosis to adulthood is complete, he/she can extend this impressive appendage in a neighborly‑barnacle sort of way to any old neighbor at all (within about a 7-barnacle-length circumference) and get on with important business:  passing on its genetic material to a new generation. And while this is going on with any given barnacle, chances are that one of its neighbors is doing the same thing back to it, creating a cirri‑connected, hermaphroditic, totally sessile, intertidal mass‑orgy.

Fascinating, isn't it? There are thousands more stories of life in the sea, all equally interesting.

Is it any wonder why I became a marine scientist?


Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Sunshine Blogger Award

Cindy Dwyer, at A Reason to Write, nominated Waterblogged for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Thanks, Cindy! A fellow IWW member and author, Cindy and I are at a similar position with our current manuscripts: the dreaded query stage! If you read her blog, you'll see what a talented and funny writer she is. I'm certain her hysterical memoir of growing up in a "mixed" (Irish and Italian) family, My Roots are Showing, will find an agent soon.

On to the award...

Like many of the blogging awards circulating, this is a "chain award" where, when you're nominated, you answer some questions and pass the award on to other bloggers (the award calls for 10, but I'm not much for details, so I'll leave it at "other bloggers"). Some brilliant blogger (Cindy Brown at Everyday Underwear) came up with an option to accept the "Do Not Do a Damn Thing, I just like your blog"  award, giving all of us a way to let our favorite bloggers know we're fans without making them feel obligated to continue the chain. That option is available for my nominees (listed below, after I answer the award's 8 questions).

1. What is your favorite Christmas/festive movie?
Easy! Christmas Story. Ralphie's adventures take me back to my own childhood, where I too lived more in my imagination than in the real world. From the BB gun to the tongue-on-the-flagpole, I know that childhood. I lived it. I can (and do) watch that movie repeatedly from Thanksgiving day (a tradition in our house) through Christmas.

2. What is your favorite flower?
Frangipani, aka Plumeria. I love the flower and the tree both, and perhaps even more, I love the caterpillar that eats the toxic leaves: the frangipani worm
(Frangipani. Photo from Wikipedia)

3. What is your favorite non-alcoholic beverage?
I'm afraid I don't understand the question. Non-alcoholic beverage? I suppose the tonic that goes into my G&T, although by itself, it's pretty nasty stuff.

4. What is your passion?
Swimming! If you have any doubts, scroll down a bit to read my post on "Swimmers' Bliss"--far superior to a mere runners' high.

5. What is your favorite time of year?
Summer time, summer time, sum-sum-summer time! Or, at least when I'm anywhere above about 25 degrees N latitude. Below that, in the Caribbean, winter, with the balmy 80 degree days and chilly 70 degree nights.

6. What is your favorite time of day?
Afternoon. I'm neither a morning person nor a night person. I ease into my day, peak in the middle, then fade off to bed at a fairly early hour. When other people are having their post-lunch crash, I'm wired and ready to go! Before and after that, I wake up early (5:30 a.m., thanks to the cat) and while I don't mind that, I don't want to do anything but drink coffee, check email, and catch up on the news until about 8. Bedtime is about 9:30, but then I read for 30-60 minutes, so usually about 10 p.m.

7. What is your favorite physical activity?
Swimming. Again, I'll refer you to my post on Swimmers' Bliss!

8. What is your favorite vacation?
Anywhere and everywhere. I love to travel, meet new people, and explore new places. Everywhere and everyone has a story and I love learning those. While I prefer island life and warmer climes for living, I'm perfectly happy to travel to anywhere.

And now the fun part. I get to nominate some other bloggers who have brought sunshine into my life. And they are:

1. Cheese Will Set You Free, the diary of Chester Crump.

2. Margaret and Helen

3. Kathryn Magendie, Writing from My Mountain Cove

4.  Writing on Board, by Normandie Ward Fischer

As I mentioned earlier, I’m giving these bloggers the option of accepting either the Sunshine Blogger Award or The Don’t Do A Damn Thing Award…I Just Like Your Blog, a brainchild of Cindy Brown over at Everyday Underwear. If you accept the Sunshine Award, answer the questions and pass it along to (ten/some) other brilliant bloggers. If you’d prefer The Don’t Do A Damn Thing Award, well I think you can figure it out from there.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Olympic Reading

I have the best intentions of posting weekly on this blog, but sometimes the rest of life interferes with those plans. The past 10 days have been full of those. I'd really wanted to have blow-by-blow coverage of Olympic swimming, with Phelps's incredible 20-medals' performance. But it took him a while to find his groove. I had mixed feelings about Lochte beating him (and so decisively) in the 400 IM. Hurray Ryan! But how sad for Michael. Were we going to watch a total implosion over the next 10 days? How could that be? That worried and demotivated me. I wasn't sure what to write. So I didn't write anything. 

Instead, watching the amazing Olympic swimmers inspired me to go back and read some of my favorite swimming books of all time. They motivate and excite me, keep me going back to the pool, not for any competitive glory, but because of a renewed sense of wonder and awe at the sport and swimmers and the physics of bodies in the water.

Dara Torres's Age is Just a Number ( is a great read for anyone, but particularly for those of us of a certain age, wondering what's left. I love her opening: I've been old before. I was old when I was 27 and I got divorced. I was old when I was 35 and couldn't get pregnant. I was really old when I was 39 and my father died.  I know those feelings. I've expressed the same thoughts myself. I'm sure I was never older than I was at 27. (Those of you who know me know I'm certainly far less mature now than I was then!) She goes on: But when I was 41 and woke up in a dorm in  the Olympic Village in Beijing, I didn't feel old.

Her journey and her determination inspire and motivate, let us see that we're never too old to pursue a dream. Age gives us one benefit over youth. Perspective. What's the worst thing that could happen? We might fail. With perspective, we see that's not so horrible. The beauty is in the journey, the attempt, not in the destination.

Amanda Beard's In the Water They Can't See You Cry" (  is the heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting journey she went through during her years of athletic fame. Hers isn't an uncommon story among world class female athletes. Despite being an incredibly beautiful and talented woman, she felt unworthy, lashed out with self-destructive behaviors. She had problems with bulimia--very common in athletes, and particularly swimmers and divers. Shame on coaches, parents, and spectators feeling the need to comment on these girls' and womens' bodies. Let anyone of them stand on a pool deck in a Speedo in front of thousands of people and see how they stack up. Then get them in the pool and REALLY see what being in shape means! Beard's book is a must read for parents of female swimmers. The pressures she faced are common in the sport. In her case, no one noticed her battle with depression for years. Luckily, someone (her future husband) finally did and she got help and overcame her problem. Knowing all she's gone through makes her that much more of a star in my book.
Amanda Beard (photo from Brooks International)

If you're an Amanda Beard fan, you'll love her blog, Swim Like a Mom too. 

My all time favorite swimming book is Gold in the Water by P.H. Mullen ( ). This is a fantastic read for parents and swimmers both. Mullen chronicles the journey of a group of swimmers at the Santa Clara Swim Club trying to qualify for the 2000 Olympics in Australia. He captures the emotional and physical pressures of that journey, and the highs and lows of the athletes as they reach for new heights. If the Olympics got you pumped and ready to up your swim workouts, read this. It'll keep that motivation alive!

In the end, Michael Phelps didn't let us down. He managed to get his head into the games and have some outstanding performances. He, Lochte, Missy Franklin, and all the USA swimmers were outstanding. With a total of 30 medals (16 gold, 8 silver, and 6 bronze) we showed once again that swimming is our true power sport, the one we always and consistently dominate.

I stand in awe of the greatness our swimmers have achieved, and the greatness they inspire. For more inspiration, read these three books. They'll  make you want to dive right in and start swimming laps!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Olympic Countdown!

Get ready! Here it comes! Only 3 days until the first swimming event of the 2012 Summer Olympics!

The swimming events will take place over 8 days (July 28-Aug 4). The first day will make for an exciting opening with the Men's 400m Individual Medley (IM) and 400m free, and the Women's 400m IM and 4X100 free relay.

Ryan Lochte and Michael Phelps will go head to head, right off that bat in the 400m IM. Should set the tone for a VERY exciting week of racing between these two swimming dynamos. I can't wait!!!

M. Phelps (photo from the
London Olympics website

Based on his photo at the Olympic website, I'm pretty certain that Phelps is trying to use some reverse psychology to lull his competition into a false sense of security. His pic looks more like a mug shot than the photo of the world's greatest swimmer of all time. Lochte looks every inch the swimmer in his photo. That alone should intimidate the competition!

R. Lochte
(photo from

Whichever of these two swimming superstars you're rooting for, the 400 IM promises to be an exciting start to a great week with an almost guaranteed gold for Team USA either way!

I couldn't leave off without at least a touch of Olympic spirit here...Given the very awe-inspiring photos of our 400 IM swimmers and my penchant for rooting for underdogs, I'll be cheering for Qatar's Ahmed Ghithe G Atari, not to win, but to have his best time in the 400 IM. The 5'10" 18-year-old isn't the youngest in the field--that honor goes to 15-year old Zheng Wen Quah of Singapore (who at 5'9" and 127 lbs is also the smallest competitor.) But Atari is by far the most vulnerable looking in the athlete profiles for the event     

Scrolling between the photos of Phelps, Lochte, and Atari, I can't help but feel protective of Atari. He looks so young and innocent. It looks like someone snuck a picture of the kid next door into that line up. He's being thrown into the pool with the big sharks! Who knows, maybe he'll turn out to be the shark and surprise all of us. Either way, I wish him well in the event (the only one he's swimming), and hope he has a wonderful, memorable Olympic experience.
A. Atari
(photo from

Go TEAM USA! And good luck to ALL the Olympians in the upcoming weeks!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Swimmers' Bliss

Lowcountry Splash 2.4 mile open water swim, May 2011
(yes, I stop swimming to smile and pose for pics!)

"I always wanted to be Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up. I can't fly, but swimming is the next best thing. It's harmony and balance. The water is my sky." ~Clayton Jones

Most everyone has heard of runners' high: a euphoric state achieved after running some distance. The effects experienced and distance needed to achieve this state varies from person to person, but most distance runners will tell you they've experienced this state of heightened awareness when their entire run, their entire world comes into focus and is, for a moment, perfect. Other athletes will also tell you they've experienced the equivalent of a runners' high, when "they feel they are working to their maximum potential and feeling on top of the world." The intense emotions and ecstasy of the runners' high is most likely a result of endorphins, opiate pain-relievers found in the brain that are released at times of high physical stress, like during intense exercise.

I've experienced runners' high once or twice--back when I ran marathons and half marathons. But running was never my real passion the way swimming is. Swimmers get their own, special brand of euphoria that I think merits its own category: swimmers' bliss.

Unlike a runners' high that requires significant stress on the body, swimmers' bliss comes about when a person loses themselves entirely to the physical stimuli of the pool. It can occur with the slowest, easiest, and shortest of swims right up to those high-intensity workouts that leave you sweating in the pool, arms too tired to pull you up onto the deck (at which point one might experience a runners' high AND swimmers' bliss.)

The real beauty of swimmers' bliss is that it can be intentionally induced. For me, this is a form of meditation resulting in a unique state of complete sensory stimulation--all 5 senses are involved. At the same time, one experiences the kind of sensory depravation that pools provide: sound is muffled, vision is blurred, the water closes in around you, and there is nothing but you and the water.

There might be other paths to the enlightenment of swimmers' bliss, but my own is this:

1. Count strokes. Perhaps it takes a slight case of OCD, but I have a counting pattern based on alternate side breathing: every 3rd stroke. I count arm strokes for 1 and 2, and pool length for the 3rd stroke with a breath. One, two, one, one, two, two, two, one, two,, two three, one, two, three...for as many lengths as I'm swimming. Turns get their own special rhythm in the count: breathe, two, tuck, push, kick, kick, kick, kick, one, two, breathe...then back to the pattern above.

This counting focuses my brain on the rhythm, lets me push other thoughts from my head. After years of doing this--it's the same method I used as a distance swimmer in high school and college--I don't even think about the count any more. It just happens. When I want to know where I am, I tune in to the numbers that are always running in the back of my mind and there it is, with the length number popping up every third arm pull.

2. Listen. This is something I'd always tell swimmers when I was coaching--it's a great diagnostic tool to make quick fixes to your stroke. Each stroke has its own sounds and rhythms. I listen to my stroke, listen to the water and adjust until it sounds just right. If I hear slapping and splashing, I relax, reach out further, change my stroke. Calm it. The soundtrack to a good freestyle swim, for me, is a steady pulsing that matches my stroke count: shhhhhh, shhhhh, shhhhh, shhhhh as each arm slices in to the water. Behind that, there's a constant, muffled hum of water flowing past my ears, and the blurble of exhaling and haaaa of inhaling. I can hear it and feel it. The sounds become a hypnotic symphony, reinforcing the smooth, rhythm of the stroke. One two three, one two three...a waltz through the water.

3. Watch. This works both indoors and out, but is particularly captivating in outdoor pools, lakes, or the ocean on sunny days. I watch the play of light and dim shadows of my progress through the water on the bottom (or in the water column if I'm in murky or deep water). I see the sparkle of sunlight on the water around me with each breath. Everything beyond a foot or two away is a distant blur, my goggles a barrier, separating my water world from anything else. It's me enveloped in the water's embrace, with nothing outside of that visible to distract me. One of my favorite views while swimming is coming off the wall from a backstroke turn, stretching into a long streamline, and looking up to see my own reflection on the water surface...surrounded by a water-blurred sky beyond.

4. I also feel the water, not just with my fingers and hands, but with my whole body. The water embraces and caresses, running smooth fingers down the length of a swimmer's body. It's surprising how much information the brain receives when I pay attention to that feel: hips are moving out of alignment, legs are sagging or loose, I'm not rolling enough. When I tune into that feel, I can adjust my stroke until I know, in every cell in my body, what the word "sleek" means. (Of course, feeling it and looking it are two different beasts. I can at least feel long and lean in the water, a luxury I'm not afforded on dry land--and perhaps another reason I love the feel of swimming!) I can stretch out long to get every bit of surface area in on the feeling and luxuriate in it. I push my toes back, reach my fingertips forward, and revel in the buoyancy and balance of the water supporting me, and me slicing through the water. There's no better feeling.

5. Smell and taste the water. Maybe it's a swimmer thing, but when I step into a locker room or pool area and smell chlorine, I get a little tingle of excitement in anticipation of the blissful feeling that I know is on the way. Once in the pool, I no longer smell the chlorine, it has become part of my world. Similarly, open waters have their own smells: the earthy, heaviness of lakes and ponds, or the tang of saltwater. All evoke that same anticipation. Once in the water, every breath gives a taste of chlorine, fresh, or salt water on my lips, teasing my taste buds with cool drips and drops.

I'm pretty sure that if you relax and do steps #1 and 2, the rest will follow. Start counting, listen and bliss will come your way. For me, the absolute best part of swimmers' bliss is that, by not working at swimming, but instead immersing myself in the search for bliss, I swim farther and faster than when I approach my swims as a task on my to-do list for the day, or a workout to get through. As a quest for bliss, my swim becomes both a path to something like Buddhist enlightenment and to swimming success.

Like runners' high, I suspect swimmers' bliss is experienced in as many different ways as there are swimmers. However you get it, there's nothing like the complete serenity and self-awareness of swimmers' bliss.

Swimmers, tell us about your blissful swims in the comments section!

The water is your friend. You don't have to fight with water, just share the same spirit as the water, and it will help you move.
~Aleksandr Popov

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I love sea jellies (commonly referred to as jellyfish, although they aren't fish at all.) My infatuation with these graceful, mesmerizing invertebrates started when I saw what looked like a cross between a flower and an anemone on the sandy bottom of Brewer's Bay in St. Thomas. I'd recently transferred to the College of the Virgin Islands and was snorkeling around the school's dock. The flower was beautiful with its green-gold petals undulating with the slight surge. I had to get a closer look! (Casseopia photo courtesy of Shyzaboy's Flickr photostream.)

As I was about to touch a petal, a hand grabbed my wrist. My ecology professor was snorkeling nearby and saw what I was about to do. He pulled me to the surface and said, "That's not a plant, it's a jellyfish."

Now I was even more fascinated so found out everything I could about Cassiopea xamachana, the "upside-down jellyfish." Three years later, I did my senior research project and independent study on Cassiopea, and have never lost my fascination with jellies.

Maybe my affinity for these creatures comes from our many shared traits: elegance, grace, soft and pliable, yet able to defend ourselves with nasty barbs.

OK, we only share one out of those five traits. I'll let you guess which. Whatever the reason for my interest in these floating sacs of jelly, I'm drawn to them and endlessly curious about the incredible variety found within the phylum Cnidaria-from the Greek word for nettle, as in the stinging plant.

The Cnidarians are broken into three classes: scyphozoans (true jellies), anthozoans (corals and anemones), and hydrozoans (colonial hydras and the Portuguese Man-of-war, not a true jelly.) While corals, anemones, and hydras are all very cool, it's the scyphozoans that really captured my heart and mind. Here are the three that I find most interesting.

Cassiopea xamachana, the upside-down mangrove jelly. My first jelly. The species name xamachana means Jamaican, so you're right to guess this is a predominantly Caribbean species. Not to cast aspersions on Jamaicans or other islanders, but these jellies have some island attitude. "It's hot down in the Caribbean mehson, we ain' wastin' energy doin' all that movin' aroung!" Instead of swimming upright, bell-up, tentacles-down in traditional jelly fashion, these guys find a comfy spot on the sandy or muddy bottom of calm lagoons or bays and kick back, upside down.

They've not only found a lazy-man approach to swimming (that is, they rarely do), but to eating, too. Inside the mesoglea (jelly) of Cassiopea live thousands of zooxanthellae: tiny, single-celled algae (dinoflagellates). They're what give Cassiopea their green-gold color. These little guys do what all plants do--they photosynthesize, creating sugar (food) from sunlight and carbon dioxide, and release oxygen in the process. This jelly-mon gets part of its food and oxygen from them.

The algae don't provide all of the food the jellies need, so they do still have to eat some. Like other jellies, Cassiopea capture unsuspecting prey that swims into their waving tentacles and lappets by paralyzing them with stinging cells (nematocysts). They then move the food to their mouths. That's right. Mouths. Cassiopea don't have a single mouth in the middle of a ring of oral arms like the rest of the jellies, but instead have mouths at the ends of each branch of their manubrium (the fancy jellyfish word for stomach)!

Is it any wonder I became so intrigued with these guys?

The object of my next jelly-infatuation is a hefty, Mediterranean species.
Cotylorhiza tuberculata, the fried-egg jelly. I first saw fried-egg jellies while sailing in the Aegean. They're one of the most common species of jelly in the Mediterranean, Agean and Adriatic. Their bell has a flattened region along the margin and a yellow-orange dome in the center giving it the appearance of a large fried egg when viewed from above. Like Cassiopea, this jelly hosts symbiotic zooxanthellae, but instead of having them throughout their bodies, they house them in round appendages between and around their oral arms. The purple-blue zooxanthellae filled balls give Cotylorhiza a festive, dressed-to-party look.

Like all jellies, Cotylorhiza have nematocysts and do sting. Reports vary on its intensity and impact on humans, ranging from "very mild" to "not dangerous." There are many reports (and pictures) of people handling them, including one of a researcher putting one on his head like a hat to demonstrate how little danger they pose. Since venom strength can vary from one animal to the next, and sensitivity can vary from person to person, I wouldn't recommend this, but I'd also be the first one to jump in and touch one.

What's really fascinating about the fried-egg jellies is that they are active swimmers. While most jellies can control over their movement through the contraction of the bell, they aren't strong swimmers and the currents and wind do most of the work. When aggregations of jellyfish "swarm" in a harbor, it's usually less because they wanted to stop there and more because the current or wind put them there. Fried egg jellies, though, actively move back and forth across harbors to be in the sunlight, probably to keep their zooxanthellae happy and productive.

Click HERE to see a great you-tube video of the fried-egg jelly swimming.

My final favorite jelly is Cyanea capillata, the lion's mane jelly. This jelly isn't one of my favorites because of its physiology, behavior, or appearance, but out of empathy. People judge it harshly based on a widely circulated picture that uses perspective to make it appear to be something it isn't. Haven't we all been judged quickly or falsely based on appearance?

I like to say that perception is NOT reality unless it's correct, and MISperception is just plain wrong. In the case of Cyanea, the misperception is about its size. Yes, the lion's mane jelly is the largest sea jelly in the world, but based on the image shown here--one that periodically makes its way around the Internet--this thing is a MONSTER! Even if that man next to it is 6' tall, the jelly is still more than twice his length. That would make this behemoth a whopping 15' across.

The truth is, even though the lion's mane jelly is the largest scyphozoan in the world's oceans, it only grows to about 6.5 feet (or 8' by some reports). Its tentacles can extend as far as 50 feet (or 100', depending on the source). Yes, its tentacles sting. But the toxin is far from "the most potent species of jellyfish" as reported on the National Geographic website. That honor remains with the box jelly (aka cubomedusa or sea wasp), the most venomous animal in the world. More than 5500 deaths have been attributed to box jellies since people started keeping records of that sort of thing in 1884. Cyanea's sting is said to be painful, but it's rarely fatal.

The lion's mane jelly only reaches the maximum of its size range in cold, northern waters of the Arctic, northern boreal seas, and North Atlantic. In the Atlantic, it can be found as far south as Florida. It's abundant enough in South Carolina waters that the SCDNR has a listing for them on their "Marine Organisms of SC" website, where they're noted as considerably smaller than 6-8' in diameter, and having a far from potent sting:

"The bell, measuring 6-8 inches (emphasis added), is saucer-shaped with reddish-brown oral arms and eight clusters of tentacles hanging underneath. Cyanea are generally considered moderate stingers. Symptoms are similar to those of the moon jelly but, usually more intense. Pain is relatively mild and often described as burning rather than stinging."

At least this jellies' notoriety resulted in some small bit of fame for the maligned creatures. A Cyanea sea jelly was the murder weapon in the Sherlock Holmes mystery "The Adventure of the Lion's Mane." The victim must have been highly sensitive, though, since most swimmers who encounter this giant jelly survive to tell the story themselves.

To read more about these fascinating creatures, take a look at these resources:

The Cephalopod Page

Gowell, E. (2004). Amazing Jellies: Jewels of the Sea. A New England Aquarium Book. Bunker Hill Publishing, Piermont, NH. 48 pp.

Humann, Paul (1992). Reef Creature Identification: Florida Caribbean Bahamas. New World Publications, Inc., Jacksonville, FL. 320 pp.

Malawi Cichlids


Walla Walla University, Rosario Beach Marine Laboratory web site

Photos from:
National Geographic at


Shyzaboy's photostream on Flickr at:


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sailing Lore and Legends: It's Unlucky to Kill a Porpoise. The story of Pelorus Jack

Sailing history is filled with superstition and lore. It's unlucky to start a cruise on: a Friday (the day Christ was crucified), the first Monday in April (the day Cain slew Abel), the second Monday in August (the day Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed), December 31 (the day Judas Iscariot hanged himself). Black travel bags are unlucky but black cats are good luck and bring sailors home from the sea. Women aboard a ship make the sea angry, but naked women can calm the seas.

My favorite sailing superstition is that porpoises swimming around a ship are a good sign, and it's unlucky to kill one.

Need proof of the veracity of this bit of superstition? Look no further than the story of Pelorus Jack in New Zealand. Jack was the first dolphin to ever be protected by law.

In 1888 a Risso dolphin--a species uncommon to New Zealand waters--came to the attention of sailors on the ship Brindle as they made their way from Wellington to Nelson and back. This trip required a traverse through a dangerous bit of water between NZ's North and South Islands, a narrow channel filled with rocks hiding just beneath the surface, currents of up to 8 knots, and the remains of hundreds of vessels that didn't make it through. Sailors aboard the Brindle spotted the dolphin ahead of them, but it wasn't playing in the ship's wake as they expected. It appeared to be leading them through the channel!

The dolphin met the ship at the mouth of the channel on their return trip, too, and guided them safely back to the harbor. The sailors aboard the Brindle named the dolphin Pelorus Jack.

For 24 years, Pelorus Jack met ships from the entrance of Pelorus Sound and led them to French Pass, then picked them up again as they came out of the pass on their return journey to lead them safely back to the harbor. He was so reliable that many captains refused to go forward until he appeared. Clearly, this dolphin brought luck to all the vessels he brought safely home from their voyage. His reputation and fame grew, and people came from around the world to see him, including Mark Twain!

But, sadly, people are people and it wasn't just those who were amazed and awed that flocked to see the dolphin that seemed intent on helping sailors. In 1904, a passenger aboard a ship named Penguin fired a shot at the dolphin. Jack swam away, leaving a trail of blood in the water. Thankfully, he survived and reappeared two weeks later and proved he was as smart as he seemed: he never again led the Penguin through the channel.

Public outcry over the shooting incident led to passage of a law protecting Pelorus Jack and making it illegal to shoot a dolphin in New Zealand waters.

Pelorus Jack guided his last ship to the channel on April 12, 1912. He disappeared after that, probably dying of old age. New Zealand declared a day of national mourning to honor him, a candy bar was named after him, and songs have been written about this dolphin that brought luck to the sailors and led them safely home.

As the perfect post script to Pelorus Jack's story, five years after the passenger shot at the dolphin, the Penguin sank on the rocks in French Pass. It was the only ship lost in the channel during all the years Jack led ships through.

Closer to home, this past year, the South Carolina legislature refused to pass a law lowering the speed vessels can travel in the Charleston harbor--a law proposed because of an alarming increase in the number of fatal collisions between commercial ships and marine mammals. When a fourth-grade school class submitted a proposal to make the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin the state marine mammal, the legislature refused. One of our illustrious elected officials defended his vote against it by saying, "If we did that, we'd have to lower the vessel speed in the harbor to protect them, and that would be bad for commerce."

Maybe the SC legislature needs to hear about Pelorus Jack, the sailing superstition that it's bad luck to kill a porpoise, and the fate of the Penguin?


The Bathroom Readers' Institute (2007). Uncle John's Under the Slimy Sea. Bathroom Readers' Press, Ashland, OR. 144 pp.

The Encyclopedia of New Zealand at

Hendrickson, Robert (1984). The Ocean Almanac. Doubleday Books, New York, NY. 446 pp.

* Photo of Pelorus Jack downloaded from

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Welcome to Waterblogged!

Welcome to Waterblogged! This is where I get to write about water, and anything and everything related to water. Bizarre sea creatures, great islands or coastal towns, watersports or events, and the marine environment: If it's water related---and everything is--I might write about it here! Pop in and see what's caught my fancy each week.